We often find that it is only once someone special has gone that we truly reflect on their lives and the legacies that they have left behind. It’s not that they weren’t appreciated before this point; we can recall memories or snapshots in time when that person had an effect on our lives. But in this modern world, we are all guilty of living in the moment and often don’t make the time to think about what we have and what we stand to lose once that someone special is no longer there to guide us.

It was with the passing of Arnold Palmer that the golf industry as a whole took a moment to step back from what they were doing and fully appreciated what he did for the sport and what his legacy will continue to do for the next generations of golfers. For me, I looked beyond the middle aged and old man that I have grown up with and really looked at the young golfer he had been. He was a trailblazer in the world of sports marketing, propelling golf and its professional players onto the global stage.

It was during my reflection of the young Palmer that I started to think about the image of golf. We frequently hear that golf needs to change its image. It needs to appeal to a wider audience and drop the stuffy old boys’ club feel to it. I know I’m guilty of thinking this. However, I came to wonder why do people perceive golf to be like this? Characters like Palmer are far removed from this stereotypical golfer that we are all trying to change.

Although the history books wouldn’t call Palmer the original golfing icon, he is definitely the one whose image and persona have transcended through the last 60 years of golf, sports lovers across the world would know his name. Far from being from a privileged background, his beginnings were much more humble. It was his ability to light up a golf course with his personality and exceptional play that got people flocking to watch him. Taking the game play away, Palmer just looked the part, immaculately styled, not a hair out of place, just like any film star of the day. He oozed star quality, refreshing the image of golf and making it cool.

Arnold Palmer

Palmer wasn’t alone in not conforming to the stereotype. Character after character has graced the fairways over the years, all in their own way showcasing the sport. Nicklaus and Player must be mentioned alongside Palmer. However for me, growing up in 80s & 90s, the likes of Torrance, Faldo, Norman, Ballesteros & Daly are the ones that stick out in my mind.

Since then even bigger personalities have entered the frame Jiménez, Poulter, Fowler and most recently Andrew “Beef” Johnston. All so completely different but with an ability to bring something new to the golf course and with the invention of social media give us a better insight, rightly or wrongly, of what being a tour player is all about.

Golf isn’t only about characters on the golf course, it’s possible to look at the image of professional golf in a different way. Thanks to Palmer, some tour players are able to live more of a playboy lifestyle – private jets, fast cars, beautiful women, cigarettes (& cigars) and alcohol. Granted this might make them a little out of touch with reality, like your archetypal private golf member, but that is no different from most other highly paid professional sportsmen in more popular sports.

Why golf continues to be tarnished with this stuck up brush I’ll never know because for 60 years professional golfers have been bucking this trend. The baying crowds at Hazeltine showed how far we have moved away from this supposedly gentlemanly sport!

Maybe we don’t need to look to something new to change the perception of golf, maybe we should take that moment to appreciate what has already been done and continue with Arnold Palmer’s legacy. Where we take it upon ourselves to make golf everything we want it to be, where we are responsible for breaking down barriers, showcasing the sport and making it cool.

Emma Ballard
Emma Ballard – Digital Content Manager

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